The current three-month time limit for bringing claims in the employment tribunal is not fit for purpose and should be extended, the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) has said.
It should also be easier for tribunals to extend the time limit, CILEx argued in its response to the Law Commission consultation, Employment law hearing structures.
The consultation mooted the possible extension of the primary time limit to six months and/or introducing greater discretion into the power to extend the time limit. The power is currently relatively strict, namely that it was not reasonably practical to bring the claim earlier.
CILEx supports both given the increasing complexity of employment disputes. Its response said: “CILEx does not see the primary time limit of three months, starting from the date of termination of employment or alleged conduct, as fit for purpose in many instances.
“Although this primary time limit could benefit by relaxing powers of extension alone, CILEx would prefer for the maximum timeframe to be generally extended to a longer period. This would provide litigants, who are already facing pressurised and emotional circumstances, with greater clarity and peace of mind that their claim shall not be dismissed purely on a procedural contingency.
“Nevertheless, in addition to extending the general time limits, CILEx would welcome relaxation of the powers for extension to take account of situations in which it would be just and equitable to do so.”
The consultation considered the question of whether tribunals, rather than county courts, should be able to hear non-employment discrimination claims, given that it is only the facts, and not the law, which are different, and employment judges have the expertise in such claims that district and circuit judges do not.
CILEx welcomed the Law Commission’s recommendation to retain the county court’s jurisdiction and supported more flexible deployment to enable employment judges to sit in the county court to hear such cases.
Alongside this was CILEx’s call to remove the “outdated restrictions” which prevent Chartered Legal Executives from becoming circuit judges (district judge is currently the highest post for which they can apply).
“Should flexible deployment be introduced, this restriction would result in absurd outcomes whereby Chartered Legal Executives [as tribunal judges] are deployed to county courts, fulfil the same function as circuit judges, but would be unable to apply for the official position of a ‘circuit judge’.”
CILEx President Philip Sherwood says: “The employment tribunals have changed substantially since they were first introduced in 1964 – their jurisdiction has been greatly expanded and they are now nothing like as informal as initially envisaged.
“This reflects the increasing complexity of the law and the cases being brought, and so it is right that employees are given more time to take stock before bringing an action.
“Flexible deployment recognises the expertise and experience that employment judges possess, and acknowledges greater parity between tribunal and county court judges. Much in the same way that these reforms aim to eradicate anomalies that have prevented cases from being determined by judges well equipped to handle them, CILEx urges that barriers for Chartered Legal Executive judges need to be removed too.”